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York Theatre Royal now open following £6million redevelopment

York Theatre Royal now open following £6million redevelopment

York Theatre Royal is now open following a £6million redevelopment by architects De Matos Ryan. The 270 year old theatre launched with the world stage premiere of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Brideshead Revisited, adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Damian Cruden.

Founded in 1744, York Theatre Royal is the UK’s oldest producing theatre outside of London and this latest redevelopment has increased access and flexibility to create a building fit for a 21st century audience. It is the first significant change to the building since Patrick Gwynne’s ground-breaking poured concrete and glass extension was added to in 1967. The project has been funded by Arts Council England, City of York Council and York Conservation Trust with generous grants and donations from local and national trusts and foundations, corporate and individual supporters. A further £153,000 has been raised through a public fundraising campaign.

The Redevelopment

The project has improved access throughout the building, added a spacious open plan foyer and doubled the café area. The gothic colonnade, once exposed to the elements, has been enclosed by glass, creating a warm and inviting entrance. The extended foyer has been reimagined to reflect the ways the community and wider audience engage with the space. New seating areas have been incorporated into the layout with a new café and bistro offering freshly-made deli snacks and main meals with ingredients from the best of local Yorkshire suppliers. Polished terrazzo flooring in grey and white reflects the outlines of the mediaeval foundations remaining below, bringing the history of the building into the modern space. 

The main stage has been reconstructed in a modular form, allowing the stage to be adapted or removed entirely, offering a flexibility that is rarely seen in such an historic theatre. The new layout enables traps and level changes to be provided with ease adding to the versatility of productions and making the theatre more suitable for touring productions and dance companies.  Sightlines have dramatically improved with a new rake to the Stalls enhancing the intimacy of the auditorium and the Dress Circle and Gallery have received new seating and raking to maximise capacity and improve comfort and sightlines. 

Every stage of the redevelopment has been carefully designed to harmonise with the Grade II* listed building and its beautiful patchwork of architectural styles. New and improved access to the Studio and Main Auditorium has been made possible by the installation of a lift concealed behind a 1967 slate wall, allowing wheelchair spaces in both the Stalls and Dress Circle.  Improvements to the flooring and toilet facilities enable both audience members and staff to use the building comfortably and independently, and additional toilets have been added to cope with the increasing number of visitors. 

The Archaeology

York Theatre Royal lies on the site of St Leonard’s Hospital, one of the largest and most important hospitals of mediaeval England. Throughout the theatre’s renovation a team of archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust spent several weeks carrying out excavations under the stage before ground works by the main contractor, William Birch and Son, took place in the auditorium. The team uncovered limestone foundations of the north wall of one of the 12th century hospital buildings and a number of the plinths and pillar bases for the rib-vaulted ground floor.  

The dig also found the remains of a post-mediaeval cobbled street, made up of stones from St. Leonard’s Hospital, evidence of supporting columns from the hospital and a mediaeval well. An arched entranceway, situated in the back wall of the theatre has at various points been considered as both a section of the York Minster yard walls and part of the entrance to the Royal Mint in York. It has proved to be an unusual and rare 18th century folly which would have once formed part of a gateway to the gardens adjacent to the theatre that were swallowed up during 19th century expansion works.

Ben Reeves, Chief Archaeologist on site from York Archaeological Trust said: ‘It is amazing that, considering all the alterations to the theatre since 1764, so much of the medieval hospital has survived under the stalls and elsewhere within the building. The remains are an exciting and important discovery for both archaeologists and the public, offering an opportunity to investigate and understand more about one of the City’s most fascinating and little understood sites.’

The Spring 2016 Season

The spring season will see a new programme of events and activities to bring the community and audiences even closer to the work of the theatre.  270/360 will celebrate 270 years of York Theatre Royal with a 360-degree view of the theatre’s activities including talks, discussions, open rehearsals and meet-the-cast events. There will even be the opportunity to see productions from a completely different angle with A View from Backstage, where tickets will be available to watch from either the wings or the fly floor.

The theatre reopens with two world premiere York Theatre Royal co-productions and continues its commitment to innovative producing, the nurturing of new talent and providing activities for the whole community.

  • A stunning new reimagining of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Brideshead Revisited in conjunction with English Touring Theatre runs from Friday 22 – Saturday 30 April, before embarking on a UK tour.
  • An eerily prophetic adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic short story The Machine Stops will celebrate the theatre’s longstanding partnership with Pilot Theatre and run from Friday 13 May – Saturday 4 June. 
  • York Theatre Royal’s annual summer production cements its reputation of giving classic stories an inventive new twist. Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, directed by Damian Cruden, will be a fun-packed family show which turns horror into howling comedy from Friday 29 July – Saturday 27 August. 
  • Critically acclaimed touring companies return including Northern Broadsides, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English Touring Opera. 
  • Younger members of the family will be able to enjoy the return of Little Feet festival of Children’s theatre in June and resident company tutti frutti will present a new production WiLd!

For full listings of the opening season please visit yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Liz Wilson, Chief Executive at York Theatre Royal commented: ‘York Theatre Royal contributes to the world class cultural offer in the city through ambitious theatre productions, support for innovative artists and companies and promoting a culture of achievement with a community of collaborators, whether artist or citizen.  The redevelopment supports our work in all its glorious diversity and brings the flexibility essential to a truly sustainable organisation that will continue to grow and evolve.’

Damian Cruden, Artistic Director at York Theatre Royal said: ‘As the building nears completion it becomes ever more evident just how desperately needed the work has been. Our original desire to create a theatre space which gave our audience a far better experience whilst experiencing a show has over time grown to include the entire building. We can appreciate now just how wonderful this is going to be. So for all our community we will be able to offer a building fit for the 21st century and beyond. Not only do we have all this but we also have a new roof over our heads which has been afforded by our new landlords the York Conservation Trust, who truly understand the importance of culture in our community and are prepared to invest in it.’

Chief Executive of York Conservation Trust, Philip Thake commented: ‘York Conservation Trust are immensely proud to be the new owners of this magnificent building which has a rich and varied past.  Our charter is to protect York’s most historic properties and it was clear to us that substantial investment was required to secure this important building’s future and preserve it for the benefit of the people of York and the nation at large. In this time of austerity and lack of funds in local government, it seemed appropriate for us to step in and purchase the property. We will now guarantee its future and have long term plans for even more improvements to other parts of the property which will further enhance the theatre’s offering to the local community.’

Angus Morrogh-Ryan, Project Director at De Matos Ryan said: ‘York Theatre Royal is already highly creative and commercial.  They consistently make inspiring and imaginative events happen in York, which are highly regarded regionally and nationally.  This project’s role is to unlock even more if its potential, opening the doors to a wider community, so that they can build the next phase of their future with a sense of resilience and sustainability.’

Michelle Dickson, Director North of Arts Council England commented: ‘We are encouraged by York Theatre Royal’s plans to reopen following its major redevelopment work to make the venue more accessible and attractive for audiences - through new seating in the auditorium and a significant enhancement of the front of house spaces including new bars and catering offers. The Arts Council has helped to fund the project with a Capital grant of £2,656,068 to York Conservation Trust and we’re sure that residents and visitors alike will benefit from the improvements.’